Stange Claims Neutrality But Math Tells Tale

April 13, 2019 GMT

Lackawanna County Republican Party Chairman Lance Stange Jr. attended a meeting meant to help organize Mike Giannetta and Chris Chermak’s Republican ticket for county commissioner, but Republicans say it’s not a big deal. Before anyone sees a split between Stange and incumbent Republican Commissioner Laureen Cummings, five attendees said showing up is mostly what Stange did. Cummings said she has no problem with it. Giannetta and Chermak want to knock out Cummings in the May 21 primary election. The attendees said Stange didn’t endorse or promise to support Chermak or Giannetta at the meeting a few weeks back at Terry’s Diner in Moosic that also included Giannetta, Chermak, their campaign chairman Keith Eckel, Democratic insurance executive Chuck Volpe, and longtime state Republican political operative Pat Solano. A group like that invites speculation that you’re supporting the candidates there. Chermak, Eckel, Volpe and Giannetta said Friday that Stange only offered advice on running a campaign and didn’t endorse. “I think I invited Lance or asked him to come,” Chermak said. “I know Lance. I don’t know him that well, but I could tell you he’s a pretty fair guy. We asked him to come because he’s the chairman and we wanted his input as far as how to go about it (a campaign).” Stange said pretty much the same thing. “I have an obligation to be fair to all the candidates and I try my level best to do things for candidates that I can do for all the candidates” before the party endorses, Stange said. He’s attended other meetings with Chermak, Giannetta and Cummings, he said. Efforts to reach Solano were unsuccessful. Privately, some Republicans believe Stange would be entirely justified if he got behind Chermak and Giannetta. He took a lot of heat the night Democrat Bridget Kosierowski clobbered Republican Old Forge School Director Frank Scavo to win the 114th state House District special election March 12. At Scavo’s post-election party at Arcaro & Genell in Old Forge, his supporters openly bashed the leadership of the county and state Republican parties for failing to do enough to help him win a district that President Donald Trump won in 2016. Cummings, who was at Arcaro & Genell on election night, pointed out she’s the Republican 114th state House District committee chairwoman and a Republican state committeewoman. “I have nothing bad to say about Chairman Lance Stange, the county or state leadership,” she said. “I fully understand that emotions run high on election night but my focus is not only on unifying, but also growing the party after each election.” Stange said that’s what he wants, too. He has learned after 20 years in party leadership that few nights in politics carry as much emotion as election night. “I understand people may say things they wouldn’t say the day before or the day after,” he said. Cummings, who a couple of weeks back made sure we knew all about the Terry’s meeting and named some of the people there, never mentioned Stange being there. On Friday, she acknowledged she knew Stange was there, but doesn’t worry that he would support Chermak and Giannetta. “He meets with all the candidates,” Cummings said. “Lance always tries to be very fair in whatever he tries. ... That was their campaign meeting asking for advice and that’s something every campaign does.” Though the meeting included five Republicans, Cummings and Stange questioned a headline on last week’s column that said “GOP maneuvering” left her outside. Stange said GOP is shorthand for the Republican Party. Cummings and he view that as implying the county Republican Party endorsed Chermak and Giannetta and shut out Cummings, though neither the headline nor column said anything about an endorsement. Actually, a bit more than five weeks before the primary, the county party still hasn’t endorsed, though Stange promises an endorsement meeting soon. Last week, Cummings accused the gang of men at Terry’s of joining up to get rid of her because she’s an independent-thinking Republican woman. Eckel said that’s not it. “I attended that meeting because I’m absolutely interested in better government for this county,” he said. “I’m 72 and we have had a political climate that (is) ... discouraging people from coming here.” He ripped the county commissioners for elevating Fran Pantuso to chief of staff while she and her brother owed $60,000 in back city property taxes and garbage fees. “Isn’t there a vetting process?” Eckel asked. “My purpose in becoming their chairman is to support two people I (believe are) ... interested in being majority reform commissioners. As far as Ms. Cummings, she had four years to find a running mate to elect Republican majority commissioners. In four years, she didn’t find one.” Cummings has said no one has stepped forward to join her though she tried recruiting a running mate. “I interpret that as not being interested in being a majority reform commissioner,” Eckel said. If and when that endorsement meeting comes off, it could get interesting. You have an incumbent Republican commissioner without a running mate, two challengers running together and only two nominations available. Something has to give. Considering the split in the Republican 114th District committee that Cummings chairs, and the county executive committee, over endorsing Scavo and coupled with Scavo’s loss, plenty of Republicans could feel discontented enough to do something different. They haven’t held the full majority in the commissioners office since the early few days of 2008. BORYS KRAWCZENIUK, The Times-Tribune’s politics reporter, writes Random Notes.